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In-depth Interview with Mark Dean
by Kevin Rowland

(Fall of 2012)

A few months ago I received an email from Mark Dean asking if I would be interested in reviewing the new album by Tim Morse. One thing led to another, and we soon found ourselves in daily email contact with each other talking about dogs, our own life experiences etc. From these conversations Mark then asked if I would be willing to conduct an interview with him, and the resulting conversations over the next few months are related below. It is a great story, from someone who has followed the path of his heart and has been able to support himself through his craft while never becoming well-known outside of a close circle. This story epitomises to me what love of music is all about – it’s not about becoming famous and making millions of dollars, but doing something that is true to the individual. I have never forgotten an interview that I did with Clive Nolan about twenty years ago (in a pub – somehow all of Clive’s interviews, bar one, have taken place in a pub) where he said that his proudest achievement was that he had been able to support himself through music, with no reliance on benefits or outside assistance. Here is the story of someone with very similar ideals.

Mark has a great life-story to share, and I urge you all to read this. As Mark and I have commented to each other frequently, it has been a hell of a ride.

- Kevin Rowland Website

What are your earliest musical memories, and what inspired you to start learning a musical instrument?

My earliest waking musical memories first employed other senses than the audible. The smell and sight of the grill of a Fender combo guitar amp, the sparkle of red metal flake and chrome hardware of a drum kit towering over me like some city.

My parents were just able to support a family of 5, primarily gigging 3 to 5 nights a week with their various bands in the region, back when that was doable. They played what is now 70’s classic rock and moved into country which was also more prevalent in the paying venues. Good times. There was encouragement and shared understanding and a bit of tolerance I’m sure when I started up. At the same time, my brother had an extensive album collection consisting mostly of all the progressive rock and founders of metal coming out of Britain.

I don’t remember being inspired to learn drums, because these are not just my first musical memories - they’re some of my first memories ever as I hit pots & pans with wooden spoons. I learned that if I hit the leather foot stool with the tip of a drumstick with the right hand, it would sound deeper, like a kick drum, and flat and flush with the left would snap like a snare. But, I do remember what made me want to play guitar, hearing‘Made in Japan’ by Deep Purple and later seeing a broadcast of them play for 250,000 at Cal Jam in ‘74. That got me jumping off the bed with a baseball bat or the top of a mic stand for a guitar at about age nine.

How old were you when you started gigging, what sort of music were you playing, what were your biggest inspirations at the time?

The first rooms playing for an audience, aside from my 2nd grade school talent show with my sister, would be the occasional set in with my parents in clubs on drums, playing Bad Co, CCR, Edgar Winter, and ZZ Top from the Live Fandango days. Once at 7 years old, and a couple at 9, but more from 10, 11 and from then on. This went on for decades in one incarnation or another.

When I was 14, I founded my own band called Invasion in ‘77. I had moved into guitar for about 4 years by then and that’s what I played. It was kinda tricky because we were too young to play clubs but we played nearly every weekend wherever we could. Fairgrounds, down town streets, and we played a few festivals and public access TV. We did this until early 1980.

But, the best ones were the privet property parties and the industrial buildings where we’d throw them or get invited to play. Most of the time we’d get shut down by the police as kids scampered and jumped fences. I’d always greet them and promise it’s over unless it was far too late for that. This happened enough times for me to be addressed by them on a first name basis.

These were some pretty wild shows. We got a lot of intense energy from the crowds because we involved them so much. It was pretty raw. Aside from the antics, shenanigans, homemade pyro and lasers that would only show up when we blew smoke with the rest of the lights out, ritualistic offering up and out of rock and roll blessed and broken guitar pieces played that same song, and some indecent exposure, (It wasn’t that bad. The cut offs were just cut too high) I think the thing that would keep it going was the fact that we had no PA and therefore, no singer. We meant to get to that, but the audiences became the vocalist. And anytime we’d go to introduce a singer, the crowd would be polite, but chastise us later for it. They wanted the part and they got it.

We were young and very cocky and would arrive with sirens and procession and there were all these self appointed assistants who’d always seem to be there at the right time, like when I threw the body of a guitar out into the crowd at an outdoor gig. At one of the bigger gigs there were 3000 in attendance, but not when we played. We opened at about 10 or 11:30 in the morning, so I could find a bald spot to throw the guitar without conking someone. But it was high noon and the sun was up. It was one of our own helpers that caught the guitar or rather, was caught through the hand by the truss rod sticking out of the wood. All I saw was the sun when it left my hands. At the end of the show, my drummer Vince threw out his sticks and one just happen to hit the head of one of the players in the band that followed us. All I saw after stepping down from the stage was the fountain in the pond, so I hit that. Upon returning to the back, I see Vince being threatened by a crew member of the band just about to go on, about the drum stick caper, when ahead of me blows forth the one who caught my guitar and the sight and sound ripping vest of the cat in Vince’s face, as he’s being lifted off the ground to get a blood spattered face as our guy here points his red hand and says, "You ain’t doin nothing" Most of the gigs were wild, but fun wild. Another kind of wild.

We played about 1/3 my own songs, which sounded something like the live Pat Travers album ‘Go For What You Know’, and the Rainbow ‘Rising’ album. The covers were Zep, AC/DC, Queen, UFO, The Tubes, Cheap Trick and, the Munsters.

At the time, my biggest inspirations were theatrical or larger than life acts like Alice Cooper and Kiss. These were some of the first concerts I’d ever seen, so I thought all shows would be as bombastic. I was also floored by Cheap Trick in 77. I always liked the ones that would make ya feel kinda sick at first. I’m glad you ask "What" were the biggest inspirations?instead of, "who". I suppose that’s why I think of more aspects than just the music itself. I always say, a good lightshow makes it sound better. But, it was also during this time, ‘Hemispheres’ by Rush hit my ears. And I also saw Kansas play the last tour with the original line-up. I was becoming intrigued by odd time, ploy rhythms and breaks. I wanted to start writing and performing something I called, Excessive Aggressive Possessive Progressive. I would soon need to embark on a search for new players, hone my craft a bit and, um, cool out for sec.

What happened next? I am really interested in understanding how you moved from strong "good times" rock 'n' roll to more progressive influences, what caused that change, and what it meant in terms of band dynamics etc.

The prog influence was an adaptation, although this time was the beginning of my deepest interest in prog when it came to my writing. But life was indeed changing. I was now about age 17-18 and the life I was leading didn’t leave much time for extended reflection. I wasn’t quite ready to fly the coop yet and my parents moved to the country and I followed for a couple years which was culture shock for me coming from the city life in the Bay Area of Northern California to looking out a window and seeing black. I’ve always gravitated to the nocturnal. And my Mom & Dad were still gigging while at home, I did everything from play air guitar… to ponder what occurs in extended silence. Not a scenario most kids would volunteer for, but I’d recommended it for bit.

After a season or two of howling at the moon, I started up with songs of passion and longing and the inevitable reflection. I was already into prog by then, but I was also attracted to concept pieces. I was finding it easier to say something outside of the confines of three verses. To be honest, the lyrical content of the artists I liked the most, continued to speak new meanings as I got older, even though I always knew the words. Lyrics were generally my last point of focus in both my music and what I listened to. That is less the case these days.

It was the ensembles and larger than life fantasy depicting very real things about life. But, even in my purely rocking day there, I always went for the theatrical and spectacle and ethereal artists, like Alice Cooper. But Prog had a means to deliver this in a way I always thought could use more, probably because they had to keep their eye on what they were playing. :-) I’m just gonna say Kate Bush real fast. She continues to inspire me to this day. My first impression of her was the ‘Live Hammersmith’ in 79. There weren't very many at that time, putting so much back into the presentation. There wasn't as much technology then, so everything was performance based. 17 costume changes, rose petals for blood and such. I've always been enamoured with it. I can't leave a Rush show, without feeling a little better for being a human. Dream Theater was the kind of thing that 10 years before hearing, I'd walk the street imagining this music and laugh, thinking it was beyond human ability. That floored me. I can't help but feel I should be more up on what's out there, like you. There are artists I love that few have heard of, but most are the great founders that kicked the door open for those who dare to dream.

As for band dynamics, I was lucky enough to find my first keyboard player right in this otherwise abyss of a town. We spent a year and a half taking the patterns in the air that for me was the geography of music and put a verbal terminology to what I can then relate to others as music theory. Vince, my drummer back in the bay, decided to switch to bass and bought a Ricky. I said, good luck with that and it’s been a fun 5 years. Three weeks later, he was out here playing my prog originals while my mom taught him scales and rudiments. I couldn’t deny that, since it was a three hour drive. And I must admit, I awaited at that black window for those headlights a ¼ mile away to arrive.

But, we needed a drummer. It was me and Vince and John every weekend and one day I get a call and Vince goes, "You gotta check this guy out!" We set up an audition where I’d drive down to do just that. We talked all about the things one does when it’s safe to assume that it’s a given he could play. We go into the basement and this kit reminded me of the ones I use to build from pots and pans at 4 years old.

I said that’s cool. But he nutted up and kept freezing. After some mollycodling I asked if he could play the intro to "When the Levy Breaks", he could not. "Rock Candy"? Nope. Vince would not even look at me. A couple weeks later, Vince is back at my place and from the floor in his sleeping bag I hear a suspicious rhythm. I say, Vince? And he goes, "I’ve been working with Greg on your songs. I think we should give him another chance. "He assured me he would not bring him out here, (Which was the condition) until he was ready.

Then he said he would sell him his drum kit for $3k which Greg would pay off in drunken dares. He came out with a mission. Greg was left handed so when we’d sit facing each other in chairs playing air drums and mouthing the parts, it was mirror image. Vince had led the snare line in Vanguard so he’d work Greg on chops and roots, while I showed the songs and taught acrobatics with the stick and quadruplets with kicks.

He worked so hard on it that one night, we studied his twitchings and hand tappings above his head as he lay face down on the floor asleep after the questionable volume of drill, that was the regimen and we were able to ID my parts. But he was the first to fall asleep that night so as he lay but two feet from my Marshall Stack, I unwound the 100 foot cord and we went outside and shut the door. We can hear the warm hiss of the tubes and he was initiated into the band. We just thought the delayed reaction was strange as he levitated in a single, even, cartoon like spring. They tried to get me back as I was always the last to wake up. That was the rule. But a fist doesn’t work on a gong so well. And you’re supposed to warm it up first before striking with the mallet. But I still knew it was time for eggs.

Then, came the day when Greg rolled up my driveway, but two car doors opened. And out stepped the one who would become my first wife. Greg said, here’s your singer. I walked down the stairs and scooped her up and carried her into the house. Now, It’s John, (Keys) Vince, (Bass with 2.5 months experience) Greg (1.5 years) and Tracy (Her first band) Learning and playing my compositions based on my deepest prog influence.

Other musicians would attend our rehearsals and we always loved it when they’d ask "How long have you been playing?" I’d go 14 years. John 17, and so on. They tried to steal our little projects. But they all had enormous heart.

This band, never made it out of the rehearsal studio. But, they all grew wings and at one time or another, I had the pleasure of assisting them with their own bands throughout the years with demos and live. Tracy and I had a six month run with her living out here, but we both had some growing to do, just yet. We later went on to make music together for five years and she would first return by my invitation, along with Mike (bass from the old band) and Greg together with John for a session with me. A one-off in my first experience in a recording studio. We did a song called "Obstacles" in ‘83. I still have it.

I also went to a studio by myself to record all parts for six songs, but ran out of money by the time I had finished the drum and bass tracks. The days of recording into a battery operated cassette toy and then placing a mic between the playback and my amp were over. I needed a means to sketch pad the songs if for no other reason than to illustrate.

I bought a little four track porta-studio and as I cut my teeth on this, two things were happening: I was developing a well-defined idea of what I wanted, left to my own devices while finding it easier to track it than convey it to other musicians. Although I continued to try in what was a search for players that served as a fine way to measure the passing of time, I also felt the need to get on my feet with it all. I had to start figuring out a way to get more serious about the way I could give music the required attention as adult life continued to greet me.

How old were you at the time that you bought your first studio? I am guessing about 20? Your last sentence is the next question, how did you decide to get more serious? What did that mean on a personal and musical level? How did you start managing to achieve your goals?

Correct. I was just turning 21 when I started going to conventions and meeting some of the people I was interested in and at this time I’d sketch out plans and ideas about what I wanted, but would learn over the following couple years that I needed to not only educate myself on some industry fundamentals, but also the things that books don’t teach. So, my concept of what it really took just to do a thing on my own end, was not rooted in the kind of experience I was about to have. But at this time, I didn’t even know that. All I knew was what I wanted. I’d set out on a six month plan that ended up taking two years.

I was never really a "jammer" There have been exceptions and the first of those were a group of jazz fusion studio shut ins 10 years my elder, who I’m happy to have met. These were trade-offs in chairs in a recording studio called Euphonics. Everyone really listened to each other and complemented each others’ playing. The cat who built the studio was not a musician but was the founder/engineer very committed to this group. They all left in time to build their own home studios and the only one left was Russell.

I could have put together a slightly better home studio than the one I already had, but thought to approach Russ with the idea that I’d upgrade his place with a key component that would command twice what he was charging at the time, in exchange for use of the studio on non-booked nights.

We were getting on well and I came at a time when he was kinda phasing out of the business just as I was getting into it. I wheeled in the 400 pound 2" Ampex MM-1100 16 track and it was the ideal situation for me at the time, cause I had no financial overhead and wasn’t ready for one yet. He had a new found enthusiasm and served as a fine mentor to me. He was doing printed circuitry at the time, which paid more, so before long he’d say, "Can you take this session for me on Wednesday?" which became every Wednesday. He started to show up less and less and I was commissioned with more and more, until most clients who had never met Russ thought I was the owner.

We agreed on a % that he’d get for the house and every other week, he’d have his coffee can full of money. He’d come get it and split, or hang out for hours showing me more about what can be done. This went on for a year and a half and then one day a larger offer came in that I felt I had to call Russ for. He turned it down because it was not a good time for him to take it on. So, the next time that happened, I did take it on. In the same week I made that deal, Russ informed me that he was moving to LA. I was set to invest more into the studio, with a larger surplus than I had ever seen until then, but I was now faced with having to turn down the gig, or go independent. This turned out to be my first client in the first studio I would be solely responsible for. This was Audio Portrait Productions.

That was fine, for that gig, and did get it going. This also came when I was hooking up with my 2nd wife and first love, Darla. She became my partner in these days. It would take six months of renting the other half of the studio as rehearsal space before we could build a client base. This was commitment, because we also lived in this industrial building. Here was the first time I was making money and paying bills. When things were hard, Darla would say "You’ll look back at these days with great fondness." I said, you must be joking, but she was right. We rocked it.

Musically and personally, I was very happy. This was when I found my specialty of providing production and instrumentation for one off songwriters and artist who had no band. We recorded bands too, but this was my gig and would be for decades.

But as for my own music, I had two main goals. The first, was to use what was now a suitable venue to develop "real" recordings of my work and to also learn how to deliver the same on time and budget. This was very challenging to me. I didn't have the luxury of working on any one project at a time, and therefore found it hard to gauge how long it really took, as opposed to a lockout environment. But after about three years, I was getting the hang of it. That is, until two things happened almost at the same time. The building Russ used to run had been taken over by another studio. When they moved out, I had a chance to move the studio to that building, which had superior renovations, or it would be gutted for the next lease. I took it. Shortly thereafter my then wife Darla, took me for a walk and announced we will be having a new arrival to the fold. I was going to be a dad.

We knew we’d need a home out of these industrial sites. But, I had just signed not only the new lease, but my second 5 digit deal with a client for production of an album. By this time, my parents after 35 years of gigging had split up and we could buy the land in the country. In the following year, I’d become a homeowner, have a son and accept the required task of building not just a new studio, but the actual facility. We bought the place, but I’d have to stay behind in the bay area for the next year while Darla moved to the country and set up there with the assistance of my Mom and new mate Dave, who also lived there for a year until I could make it out and then some. My mom and Dave were starting a construction business and we were all still green enough to miscalculate the time and money to do this, but there was enormous support in the assistance with the building and a lot of blood to get it together. We made it about half way there by the time I wanted them to focus on their new business. This they did and made success and are together now. I love them, and my dad too. A lot of very talented kids were never told they can do a thing and then believe that. Some can channel a rebellious energy to prove their way into rocking the world, which many embrace as rock & roll, but for me this was not the case. I just have to say that, man. Lots of love.

So, we're out in the country and now comes, the fine art of bartering. We had the materials covered but I need hands. I could offer studio time. Hmmm... All I need is someone who is both a musician and a carpenter! :-D

I was 29 now and would need to handle the business with the head start I had gained having Darla as a partner while she made a home for us with our new ball of life. And I was no carpenter, yet. After saying ‘No thank you’ in mid handshake upon meeting about 40 contenders, I met Jim, Bill and another Frank. These guys made my 30s. We not only built the place, but became good friends through trying times for us all.

The thing about working relationships in my line of work, is that you’re involved with people’s dreams. One time when I was getting three wisdom teeth pulled, they had given me the dope and although I don’t remember, I was later told that when they asked me what I did for a living, I said "I make people’s dreams come true". The intensity and trust of an artist’s shared work can often be mistaken for a friendship. Although I have had many return clients, the ones you know are a true friends are the ones you see again after the project is over. Out of about 500 I can still count on maybe, two hands by now, those I count among them. We had a good time and were there for each other.

So, studio is up and I’ve got these eyes looking at me with waving fingers on his lips going BBBBBBbbbbbbbb and smiling. Holy shit, I’m a dad! Here be, the personal level.

Ya know, when Vince and I were young with Invasion, we’d look at guys with a house and kid and wife and say "You’ve had it, you’re done". And there’s an obvious truth to that, if a single ambition is to abandon and compete with those who can jump the wind. My dreams of whisking Darla off in a bus and such as I would bestow, is not the life I’ve come to write about, as much, any more. All my life I’ve been taught in the field that the very reason for doing a thing is the death of a dream.

I caught myself going through some kind of pre-midlife crisis birdshit, thinking ‘Oh well, I guess this is my destiny. No more surprises for me…’

It ain’t all fluff, but I found reasons for braving the seemingly insurmountable right in the art. And meanings for which I may never be able to express with words. As by now, I had seen the music industry undergo three changes, so went any pre-conceived notion of what this is all about. The things I always thought of as being the curse of an artist had become my biggest blessing. So, we had many more wonderful years as the 3 stooges that were my family. The years flew by.

Darla and I amicably parted about three years ago, after 19 years married. 27, knowing each other. We had grown apart over the later years as did our lives and we were not appealing to the better parts of each other, but we knew better and could not deny the epic years and deep love. As we rarely denied each other of anything, we opted for whatever is most conducive to quality of life and comfort over any other idea. Her life is a bit quieter than mine. We’ve actually shared more with each other since the shorter years prior as family and friends and communicate better. We’ve been to heaven and hell and back and laugh like a couple of buzzards. Life is hard out here and she deserves a simpler one. There is no woman I have ever loved more. She is, the lovely, amazing and very beautiful Darla.

We laid it down in life together and produced our best friend in all the universe and that is our son, Levi. Wonders galore for me in the learning of how to live in the present moment. He’s getting just about 20 years of age now, so I guess you just asked a 20 year question. I’m sure I left a few things out.

Somewhere in the middle there, I met the one who came to be my longest running working relationship indeed. And the best example of client/friend I’ve ever known. That’s without a doubt, Tim Morse. Enter progressive rock production. This was also the first time when making the best album we could, was paramount.

So what age were you when you net Tim, how did you meet and how did you get so heavily involved in the album. What had you been working on in the months prior – Did that in itself have an impact on this?

Tim was just wrapping up ‘Yesstories’ (Kev – Tim is an accomplished author as well as musician), so I think it was around ‘95 or ‘96. That would make me 31 or 32. We met through Mike Varney at Shrapnel Records. At the time, Mike and I were talking about doing something of mine I was working up, but I needed more to do. This was back when I thought I could turn out a Prog album in 3 months. So, I wanted two more artists and I was also doing some scouting or rather checking out ones that Mike would put me on to. I had met about five fine cats through this, but I kept wanting them for my project! :-D Tim was one I met who was already writing and working with musicians.

I drove out to see and at first I passed. Later in that week, my wife Darla asked me why did I pass on Tim. When I began answering, it was then I realized I had not passed on him, it was just the band. I called back to see if he’d be interested in coming out to the studio to discuss the possibility of working together on what he had in mind. This meeting went well. It was the first time he heard some bits I was working on that ended up on his second album we’d do together and some I’m working on for my 2nd as well.

Tim was able to articulate very well to convey where he was coming from and also illustrated on piano what had been written so far, which was a large body of music to work with. The degree of involvement for my part had much to do the person and artist Tim is. I found his ability to process information, intelligence and over all energy and presence refreshing. This was my first time working with an authentic progressive rock artist and the thing about prog is, you have to love it, because while being a small market, it ironically demands a large level of attention to deliver. I had produced a willion demos and CDs for clients, but this was the first album that AEP would put a stamp on and have involvement beyond production. This was during one of the three changes I’ve seen in the industry. We had been asked by Mike to develop two songs to bring to Magna Carta. These were the demos for "Present Moment" and "To Set Sail". When it was presented, the demo was passed on. Something about not signing solo artists anymore…

Then, I got a call from Pangea records. Come to think of it, I don’t know where that call came from. Hmmm. But I sent the demo out there. The owner called back and said, "Yeah let’s do this…" I was happy for the enthusiasm, then he says, "I can’t wait to hear the rest of the album" I said ‘Rest of the album? I need production money for this’.

He said the only ones we’d be willing to do that for are already doing it for themselves and licensing it. This was the beginning of the end for the days of making a three song demo and artist development arrangements for anything less than Pop. So, I said to Tim, that’s all I got for prog to place it. I was not in the position to undertake the demands of a full length AEP production.

But, we remained friends and my music collection was growing the more Tim and I hung out. Tim, Jim and my Dad would go bar hopping and see shows for years and Tim would call out of the blue and say, "Hey, I’m gonna go interview", (this one or that one) "Wanna come with?" I’d rebook whatever session I had that day, jump in the shower and in an hour in a half, we’d be off to Reno or Frisco. I lost a couple clients for that, but yeah...

Now, the ride out and the show and post would be all about catching up and such, but the ride back home would always be just a bit more quiet. Then one or the other of us would say, "Ya know,..." Then the other would go, "I know" We'd braze the idea and would run up the possibilities, but we were always honest with ourselves about what it would take to roll out our own album without a net. It would be years before those stars would align and once we decided to go for it, we were already pretty inside the album from how much we had talked about it and shared influences.

The studio had changed format three times during the making of ‘Transformation’. I fired up that 2 inch tape machine and we pretty much lived this album. Tim was great to work with as the dynamic as making a prog album breathed. The idea was that we’d both have to be ecstatic about everything. We both had great license to express ideas and he had the kind of trust for my delivery that would make me very conscious and attentive to his vision. We’d always get around any difference of idea by simply doing both. A progression may arise in the new, and we’d look at each other real fast both thinking I want that lead! This is how a song might get slightly longer. It wasn’t one or the other. We were trading off by the end. Here’s an example of what I mean by, in the new. We’d first put a piano into a sequencer before recording the actual part. One time I was playing the sequence back to check a thing and Tim said something and I turned and said "Huh?" and in that time, the sequence had looped. This was supposed to just be a one-time segue between progressions, but when it looped, the best part was the change from the last cord to the first. And this had to become its’ own progression. That turned out to be one of the most intense parts of "Apocalyptic Visions". Tim was so gracious and open and encouraging to the energy that it became feverish. This is how the album took a life of its own and we’d just keep it going to the absurd from a practical stand point. We didn’t care.

Before AEP went more digital, the mixing sessions for ‘Transformation’ were for me, not only the last, but the most intense of the days of up to four people at the console with rehearsed cues and charts. This is another art form all together and a lost one. Where it’s nothing less than choreography to mix on a board, knowing whose hand will go under whose and how to step to the left without landing on another one's foot. We’ve actually conked heads before we got it down. I’d spend a week building a mix, and then everyone would have to get their part down that weekend. There was no automation in here then, so if anyone blew it, we’d have to start over. :-D These were performances. Funny how you can ask a simple question and get me remembering all these things. It’s been a while since I recalled that.

And what I was doing before all of this, did have an impact. As you know, I come from a more harder-edged background and influence. Between recording clients and keeping up with things, I’d demo my work. My album took 30 years to make. Five, once I really did it, but it took about ten tries. Each time, I would either change the set or direction over time or in the time I’d get to work on it, I’d have grown just enough to make me think I could do it better. There is some contradiction to my choices and paths and to be really honest here, I feel like I’m just now getting a clue to what it’s all really about. And that’s liberating in some ways, because I’m becoming more interested in the root of things. This alleviates me of what I’m finding as the less relevant. In all there is to be concerned with, I ask myself more and more these days why I do a thing. There’s where I find such a root.

That’s a little reflective I suppose, but it goes to the root of the question of impact from prior work. I’m a rocker who loves prog. I appealed to and brought out the edge in Tim’s art and he dug it. He also took me a distance I may have not otherwise gone with anyone else for any one album, then two.. Speaking to such length as these albums go, I got to experience the dynamics that comes only when working with others and somehow, I carry this over into my own.

Tim and I are able to look at each other and get that same smile with ‘Faithscience’ as with ‘Transformation’. ‘Faithscience’ is also what we call a full on. Me or any of Tim’s friends know his strength of character and he does not miss life. A fine soul and we know a road.

Why the name Mark Dean’s Caldera? Where did that come from?

I like watching shows about the cosmos and such, and on the same channel, I caught this show all about calderas. There are three main ones and one of course is Yellowstone. Studies showed that a lake there was rising and moving off to one side. They go off about every 680,000 years. There’s so much rock above them that the magma gets trapped and expands outward. I suppose it’s the idea of something culminating for so long. And it worked well with my then studio logo which was kinda like a seismograph. It used to be called Caldera Studios. I just switched the name around. I was gonna go by Pinwheel for a while too. But, something about a countdown to a big one. I also used to live life like that too, but every day’s the big one these days. :-D

This was when I decided to do the solo thing too, but for some reason I wanted the name to have a band feel. I’ve been considering dropping the Mark Dean or the Caldera and just going with one or the other. Like with Rainbow after the first album. I have to remind myself that Caldera is not the name of the album. I still think of it as a debut title. I’ll probably just use it once.

What was your recording process? What was your way of actually working?

I hear most of the parts to something when I’m listening to a single instrument. I’ve always written that way too with the exception of actual lyrics, although the delivery of a vocal and melody often comes instantly.

So, when I sit down with a guitar and a song arrives, I’m hearing the drums and the rest. Drums go down first, which I’ll come back to in a bit. I always preferred to have the bass done before I track guitars so that I’ve got the feel of the bed track while playing the guitars, but I found that if there’s no other reference like a scratch track, the bass strings might bend slightly sharp and I wouldn’t know it until I went to record the next instrument. I tune low. So, at least some guitar would be second. Some scratch tracks ended up being keepers.

Since I was also the engineer, I’d often play out every other progression per take, to minimize the task of punch ins. I’d have a sec to get situated. I split the bass signal in 5 directions and use first generation Line 6 Pods for everything electric. And with bass, I use up to 3 at once. One for the low end which gets less tube drive for more body and less farts. And the upper Pod gets driven pretty hard. Then there’s a third. This one is the guitar Pod with a 50 watt Marshall setting. I overdrive it to the absurd and this one is also in stereo.

In each take for bass, these 3 Pods are going to 4 separate tracks. But the 3rd Pod, I don’t use the direct signal for, because to get the harmonic overtones, I use so much distortion that it needs to be cooled. So I then, use only the reverb from that track, but the reverb is so short that it only serves to cool the distortion while leaving the remaining harmonic resonance. And that is blended in for featured parts at about 20%.

All my life, I played bass with fingers instead of a pick, until I developed this tone. It requires the right touch for it to work. Conventional playing will make a terrible mess with this tone. It’s very touchy.

Because I started playing guitar at a young age, I use very light strings and playing anyone else’s guitar to me, feels like playing an acoustic. When I go for an arpeggio it doesn’t even fret. In turn, no one can play my guitars without the strings splaying off the neck. The first time they hit a chord, they just knocked it out of tune. My fingers don’t even get calluses. The process of production is in two very different and equally time consuming parts. The playing and recording and all that goes into post. The bass and guitars take the least time.

Now, the first time I ever trained equally in all instruments was when I began with the concept of doing something live as illustrated in the live performances at AEP in the video. Since then, I’ve maintained a regimen with guitar and drums and am just starting up with vocals again. But, during the recording of ‘No Man’, I’d go into practice mode for each instrument individually for the duration of all songs before switching to another instrument. All the music was recorded before the lyrics were even written. So getting the vocals down was its own dedicated season. Again, I’d have the transport controller in the live room with the mic, so to eliminate the ambient clicks of the play button, I’d do most every other line at a go. That’s pretty standard anyway, but I had to hit that mark which was usually bend down, press record, rise up, take a step back and come into it to gage placement and positioning. I could always better tell where I was before that way and pick it up with the same mindset. I was good for about two and a half hours per session for vocals and that was most days consecutively. Being producer and artist was tricky during these times, because as an artist, I had to keep up a certain energy and if you stop too long, you drop, while the producer’s role is to be objective and keep cool. I’d get the hang of it, but only if I maintained the sessions without much distraction. It would take about three days to get in the groove and if not maintained, I’d be back to zero and have to re-centre again.

In practice, it gets easier and more natural with less mental notes with a big difference in the result. Once it really got going, I’d review the earlier stages and wanna do some stuff over. I’ve been on the other side of the window many times and have a sympathy for performers and know the energy rhythms and when not to echo the artist’s own thoughts, but I had never spent this much time on the other side and have since gained a better knowing of how important it is to keep it going when it’s hot.

Until I recorded No Man and Apple of the Bitch, (Vince’s band) in this room, I’ve never been thrilled with the drum tones I’d been getting. In working with songwriter clients, it was economical and more convenient to program drums. There were two things that made me not wanna do that on my album. The main reason was that even if I were to get great tones, one can easily acquire the same and the other reason is that, no matter how well it’s done, it does not sound the same as me playing with my kit and my hits in my room.

So, I set out on a mission. One that gave me a migraine headache for two months by the time it was done. I’d mic up the kit and sample every conceivable hit I would ever do for each drum and build a programmable me. And it worked. Each sample of each hit was not just for each drum, but for each associated mic relating to that drum. So if I were to eliminate every directed mic and leave up only the room, I could play a something from it in the control room and it was identical to the sound of the kit being played with no mic in the other room, because it was the other room. In a store bought module or program, you might get your choice of 99 different snare drums. Mine had only one, with 99 different hits, all mine. I finally built something that was exactly what I’d play, with the tones I’d otherwise need a world class studio for, at the time.

Now, I had a rule about this. I’d have to play out on the kit first, so that I wouldn’t tap out something I couldn’t actually play. This is another thing that attracted me to the idea of doing the video and the live solo at the end it.

Since then I have found out how to get even better tones tracking with the live kit, which is what I’m currently doing. I recently embarked on my latest mission of tuning the drum heads to the actual note of the wood of the drum when hitting it with my palm. It sounds like God now and I’m very happy with it. So far, I’ve laid down about five or six songs for the next thingy I’m doing.

What inspired each song and what were you trying to achieve?

Oh my.

‘No Man is an Island’ is the result of about my 10th attempt to make the album I wanted. About half of the 12 songs I’m working on now, were going to be on this first release. But, I made a left and went back full circle to something closer to where I began. The music for "King’s Row" for example, was written in about 82. There was a bit of an edge to life by the time I commenced with what would be the album as it is now. This translated to the song selection and again, the lyrics had not been created yet. I’d pace the floor on a hot night in a feverish stream of consciousness and spout either a volume of anything I found relevant in my life in the immediate, which was and is difficult for me to capture and document, or I’d go into nonsensical syllables that might sound similar to someone speaking in tongues. Either would shape the feel significantly as to whatever it was I’d need to chase down.

In the former, I’d not intended to keep any of what I was saying, because my intent at the time was not to work or even write. But, I did document one out of a willion and even then I’m thinking, ‘Yeah, right’… I’d go somewhere beyond and into places I’d not signed off with myself for writing about.

I’d look at the page weeks later and it would confront me. I’d think I was writing about one thing, and it turns out there’s more to it. I found it more interesting to try to figure out what I was saying than the stuff I was turning out when I sat down with pen in hand. It made me go places I didn’t feel ready to go. Nothing like I thought it was gonna be.

Some of this process is largely due to the time it took to make the album. It crawled through my growing as an artist and by the time I caught up to it, the very meanings of the songs had evolved. It painted a picture that made me not only feel the need to augment the album by about 20 minutes for it to say something closer to how I feel now, but I also felt it necessary to live by and stand by it.

It also made me change the order or the set list. It originally ended with "Looking for Conscious", which was meant to be the sound track for the back story of "Reptilian Girl". But, when I removed that premise and connected it to my life at the time, it told an alarming story to me. The music had abandoned any preconceived notion or concept and patched itself directly to present realities and the whole thing became more honest with me than I was.

I saw an interview the other day with a kid I won’t say who. He no longer performs some songs, because he no longer feels that way. That’s like denying yourself. If you truly felt that way at the time, it plays. Some of my favourite artists agree.

So, there was a point where I thought I could no longer relate with the album, but that’s the very thing the album became about. It said, let me go and become oblivious to anything applicable to progress.

I knew pretty early on that there was a theme depicting a fight of sorts, but it started spewing and punching at circumstance. I thought, this is not reflecting the things in life I’ve since come to appreciate more. But, rather than create something else that appealed to the far fluffier place I found myself, I thought hey, if someone can wade through and still say something like this in the end, it means more and might even reach someone.

So, here’s how it actually ended up, for me. It plays out in three parts. First part, begins with "God Help Me" This has to do with isolation or the sense of such. Some kind of determination that says I’m going in, although with a feeling that says, you can’t go home. That place where one thinks they’re the only one who feels like they do, an inability to reach out, the expectation of misunderstanding.

"Reptilian Girl" moves into internal animated fantasy playback of what the soul or core is trying to tell. It takes place as a dream. Even in this response I see it play as an unconscious reaction to the song that came before it, which is funny, because very little of it is borrowed from any actual sleeping dream. I think it’s about the idea of being terrified by what you want, it’s other worldly. Happening upon someone quite alien who is able to immediately access and extract your core and show it to you while at the same time imprinting on you at a rapid pace. Sends you running until you find yourself seeking this one, once you find out it that was just a dream. There’s an elaboration on it on my web site.

"Kings Row" is an example of what happens when I set out to write something that means a thing to me, and then opens up into something more than I intended which becomes the thing more worth writing about. It seems to no longer be about its origin, but would not have taken place if not tapped from there. It’s got a surreal thing going through the bashing. This one plays out into about five directions and so tells about five different stories. An artist who inspired me all my life said one day, "I can get five people giving me different meanings of a given song of mine and they’re all correct". I can feel funny breaking it down like this, but I think once one offers up an artistic work, it’s no longer theirs to say what it means. So, I get to give my take on it just as anyone else might. My favourite writers have a way of being vague enough to let others place their own vision on it, while at the same time, deliver a universal root that’s accessible and well worth the chase.

If there’s one song on the album that means the same thing to me now, as when I wrote it, it’s "Love in Vain". And for that reason, I must honour the personal in all of us.

Do I Care.

There has been a time or two, where I found it’s a good idea to ask this. One may find themself saying the same things they said ten years ago without ever having asked that and come to find, maybe I don’t feel like I did ten years ago. :-)

Maybe I believe something different now. "Do I Care", is a song that never really does answer that very question, while at the same time, pokes fun, adopting the adage "The older we get, the less we know". This one does not ponder to ask why. It doesn’t even ask why not, although it might think it knows. Still, there’s an intensity going on here and the need to question the question, Do I Care. Just the beginning of gaining some distance from a narrower band of focus.Valid or otherwise.

But, it is the conclusion of part one of the album.

By the second part, it's taking its first real look at what questions in the silence of night can bring and a gentle glimpse enters with the first half of "The Gypsy Ears." (A play on words for Gypsy Years.) It’s an instrumental piece, sort of. Well, it has no lyrics anyway. No distractions here. The second half is the first of several awakenings to come. It does have the one word in the song actually, that simply says, ‘Hey’ as if to say, ‘Just a sec here’ or ‘Huh?’ This is a more serious questioning and first cry by what I like to call moon lit night flyers.

The core and centre piece of part two is "Across the Way" For me, it’s a love story, as then became the album itself. Isolation gives way to having been reached. A potent element to introduce to an otherwise bloodshot work. It comes in as if to say, "Hold on to this. You’ll be needing it" This is one of the two I felt was needed to augment this album.

Then, it’s back in the trenches with whatever had come before and down we go. A resolve with all emotion, aggression and momentum we’ve ever gone in with. We return to the edgy with a bit of that internal animated fantasy playback from Reptilian Girl, to help it along. Something like a chase scene in "Eluding Connie at Trixie’s Gig" All the sudden we find where Hackle Zup has just ran into the crowd at Della Robia’ show to lose Connie.

"Climb The Cliff" takes a look at the disillusion that occurs when one has been cut down by one of their heroes. It’s a lash out with no regard for the idea that in the day of a life for such artists, if their positions were switched, there could exist a moment in time where the crushed one did the crushing. The song is not sympathetic and therefore somehow evokes sympathy for the perceived hero. There is a review on my site that calls this song "Ugly" Trust me, it is. My pussy got all hurt on this one and another one of my favourite artists once said, "Artists that influence you are to be admired, not always met." The truth is, you never know what’s going on in someone’s life and there can be a wrong place and time. Some, remain dicks in my book of life, and many agree. Others, might be rude, and later on the way out of a crowded room stop, look me in the eye, shake my hand, lean into my ear, and say, "I’m so fucking tired" This one I say said, it’s cool, man. I’ll just say, it was easy to understand that one’s circumstance that night. We later worked together. But, "Climb the Cliff", was one where it’s the other way around. ‘You caught me at the wrong time as well’ Sad.

I was getting pretty pissed off bout this time in life about a few things. And although that energy was transferred into the past, the song’s placement in sequence served perfectly to test the repeating of history, given a song like "Across the Way", which had gone before. Songs that were written, prior to "Climb the Cliff", I put ahead or after, just so I could look again. The theme here would be, what have we learned? What’s the diff? Mmmmm? What do we remember? I also chose "Climb the Cliff" as a title because when I was a kid, I had to literally climb a cliff to escape an ocean tide.

"50k Wattsssss".Hmmm. Here’s where you’re going as far as you can in the world as you’ve known it. Electric metaphors with one hand on a go button, and a resolve to the idea of a countdown that’s probably the most worthy of the title Caldera on this album, we blow forth for all we feel we’re worth. Yeah, hit the button alright, but here’s where tapestry begins to unravel.

Part three, begins with a kind of, or near death. The darkest point, conveyed by the loop that is "Looking for Conscious"

Then, awaken right into spiritual battle in the final track "Oh My God" and it’s the undeniable. The unmovable in you that goes before to lift, turn and bring it down!

No, ‘What the hell just happened?’ No, ‘Oh my God’ Just somewhere you’ve never been. Abyss, perhaps. Then it gets a little more cosmic.

Now, I suppose I should mention that by now, the album is on the other side of something. Sliding in a cave. This is where you reside, up on some hill. Outside is a landscape of immense beauty…

A band in the distance. The acoustic guitar with no reverb will be the one raising an ear to the sound. The banging of drums and we find our love return here in one of the most inspirational sessions for my part, in the entire process of the journey and it’s recording. Let me say one thing about "Across the Way" as it reprises here, if I may. The finest stuff in this world will travel after it’s gone, to bring water and life to a barren planet. They will not remember us. Why should we ask them to with some launched golden disc? We are them. This is how I feel toward my loved ones. "Hold on to this" becomes "This is how it’s done"

I’ve never been as close to my own work as life would have me, until I made this album.

You had worked with countless musicians by then, so why do it solo?

A few reasons and some may have changed over the years, but the one that remains at the forefront is simply logistics. Working with the material in demo form has given me such a well-defined idea of what I want, not just with parts, but also tones, the only way I could expect one to follow that closely is to pay them. Around 89 through 91 I did have a good thing going with a cat named Ron. He was also a multi-instrumentalist. I remember working on a vocal line and I could hear him in the other room playing the harmony on an unhooked bass. He was the best drummer I ever had and took up much slack with vocals too.

The rule was, I’d give a demo and we’d meet a week later and he had to nail every part, which he did. Once someone does that, the natural thing is to want to know they would do with it. Once he played it the way I wanted it, there was instant respect. And I’m much more open when it comes to any live setting.

The idea of holding a band together never worked well for me, because I’m too vested into the work to depend on others to put as much on the line. I also didn’t want to have a band meeting about every decision. Even with a band, I’d be responsible for everything. When I moved to the country, it became even harder to sustain than just putting down a track in my underwear at midnight when I’d get a sudden window. With clients and playing in bands founded by my mates, it was always nice to jump outside of myself and hold up a mirror as it were, to reflect someone else’s vision. It was here I’d discover something new in my own playing I hadn’t known. But when it came to my own vision, I never had any questions. I don’t ever remember once asking someone if they liked a song of mine. I wrote it. I like it. If I share it, it’s more to do with who I share it with. It says more to me about them. But I do love hearing their imagery. When they get it, it's the same patterns, but with their own associations.

I’d love to have a band, but I can’t afford one. It wasn’t until shortly before starting production on No Man, that I decided to do it solo. It was the only way it would ever get done. Most of the songs were not even intended for me to sing when I wrote the melodies. When I started singing them, then lyrics came. I’m not hard to work with. It’s just difficult to expect qualified players to devote so much into someone else’s work without a lot of compensation. They’re worth it. It’s a respect thing.

One day when I was needing to drum up some studio work I thought, how can I put something together I can take out and play live with to showcase that would be quick to set up and even faster to strike? I thought, I’ll play to tracks and just open anywhere. Something I called Express Racking. Then I thought, hey, bring the drum kit. In and out... I had seen this kind of thing at conventions and expos. Then someone with a huge name played a club in my town like this and it didn’t go over so well.

I felt that if I were gonna do something like that, there would have to be a visual element to it and as much of the feel of a live show in the surroundings of what I play as well. Every morning I’d wake up with some new reason I felt this was a good idea and the covers would fly off. So it was no longer about the original idea of a quick and easy thing. It took 12 weeks to shoot the video that illustrates what should happen within 12 hours. It would require no more than to roll out a band, but it became just as much task. I still needed to find qualified people to work with. It just changed from other musicians to a search for the right crew. So, I haven’t been able to play out with that.

You need an album in stores to really play out with your own, but for me, the whole reason for doing the album was just to play out. I ended up a studio shut in instead. As the mediums are changing and CDs are now about the equivalent of a business card, it’s even more important to get out there. There’s only so much I can bring across in a demo video. I miss the connection and energy from faces. But I won’t lose my art over it if I can’t make it out there. I’m not the only one. One of my favourite bands is in Sweden and they’ve only been able to make it to the States twice. They also have the same idea of playing for all the right reasons, no matter what. Right now the most important thing is to feed creativity with the few I do get to share this with right here and explore new possibilities.

I’ve begun with production for my next work of 12 or 15 songs, but I can’t wait to complete them, so I’ll divide them into 3 or 4 little releases. To be honest, all I’m thinking about right now is to do the work I’m most happy with and be as honest with myself as I can, whatever the medium and create within my own means. The centre suffers by the minutia of what to do with it or even how to get it out there enough to create a demand for a life thing.

My life and music are more entwined than ever for me, to such that I find it in the sweeping of my control room floor. In the dynamics of real time, I’m finding my favourite creativity. I accept the struggles of life and make and share music whatever state I’m in. So, enough with the logistics outside of that. I must serve this.

It’s not just a solo album. I do everything out here with AEP as well, so the challenge is balance and presence. The trade off for not depending on others is that it crawls and takes more time to do things. Good thing I love the greater part of my work. My Son Levi though, excels in areas where I am slow and has been a tremendous help over the last couple years with his talents.

What is next for MDC?

There is a song line up. All but one has already been demoed. This one plays out in four parts :-D But, I am convinced that they should also be released as such. The focus right now is to treat the development and creativity properly for all things considered relevant to it and start at the same place thematically as well as productively. This is the first time I’ve been able to think like this. Although I’ve lived with this material for a while now, it’s back to the root on all fronts. I am enjoying where I’m at with this. I’m having a good time, this season particularly. It’s pretty free of any consideration other than the music itself.

As an artist I’m faced with having to streamline a few lifelong goals and trim the fat as it were to have the environment and sessions evermore conducive to keeping the music and the love of it alive. And there is music being played round here. ;-)

When do you believe that you will make the next songs available?

The best answer to that question I’ve heard so for is, "How long is a piece of string?" But, really.. I’m aware by now of how long it takes me to wax a hot one. Mostly having to do with all I must tend to and those I care for in life. AEP is a small company and things out here do move in their own time. That’s how and why we make the music we do.

So again, I believe the releases should be incremental for the next body of work so as to have more gratification of finished bits in between the trenches. Three to five songs at a time with perhaps some video and archives in each. Maybe that will scootch it along. I’m not even sure I’ll press them outside of these walls, but the intention is to make them available. So far, ‘No Man is an Island’ has sold Two CDs outside of the record release party and one of those was by Tim to see if the CD Baby account was working properly. :-D The other was a recording client. By a comedy of errors, my promo funds for the CD got sucked into the vortex of home and auto maintenance and I had a nice full computer systems crash about two weeks after the release for a month. Can’t say I was bored though. But it’s been something that brings round the question of why I started this in the first place. I think I’m rediscovering that these days. And some of those fundamental reasons have changed as well. I like my walk and I can’t wait to see something go foil or copper even. But I am here finding answers where I thought I might. The honest answer is soon as poss.

What is next for Mark Dean the person as opposed to the artist?

Count my frikin blessings for one. They are abundant. I’m happy with who I surround myself with. I feel like I’ve only begun to truly live in the present moment over the last few years. Life comes through like a bus. Next stop, the sun! =-O Breathing is nice… This interview for example, is something that I’ve enjoyed being present for, Kev.

It’s about the hands that lay down the how to, when it comes to connection. Appreciating the life that doesn’t go according to plan. Dynamics that come with the unexpected. Sunsets, the simple beauty of a leaf :-) Simplicity itself amidst the adventures in volume. The grace that comes with being understood. The hard questions that make you look and thank your invisible star someone asked.


What realistically do you believe you will be doing five years from now?

Although my gut does not say maybe, my crystal ball says "You don’t know" with lot’s of reverb. I’ve tried seeing myself in five years. It’s easier to see myself in five Willion years as the holy dung we all are in whatever crunch or expansion we may ride.

I can certainly tell you what I’d like to be doing, but I can only hope to manage my affairs accordingly to what comes my way. I’ve worked so hard and long at all I do, that I rarely glimpse at the toll. I’ve got broken cartilage in one knee, a deformed foot, and a hereditary umbilical hernia I can no longer ignore. So, I’m tending to myself along with others and cooling out on the back flips, for now. :-)

Maybe I am just an artist after all, but I find there’s an art to just about everything I see. I’m still at the point in life where I feel it would take lifetimes, but I’d like to think that within five I can truly articulate what life means to me and share that as I gather more about what life means to others. I’m digging it so far.

I thought I’d be touring and have my "Live album" out by now, but I got to watch my son grow up and we have always been very close. Trust me, that’s quite the tour of life. I didn’t use my life as a template for his. He has his own talents and strengths from which sharing life together has made me a much better person. In this, I have missed nothing.

He’s grown up now, so there’s a live one. Five years ey? Ya know, I do ask myself that. But, only about once in six months. Sometimes longer.

I’ve been intrigued by the study of human nature for about the last eight years. For all that may be read, one does not do this alone. There are such fine and present souls out there. Depending on the angle and pitch of light, you can be looking through a window one moment and a mirror the next. Such are the most beautiful eyes I’ve ever beheld. It makes every stranger more interesting. Mine is to continue to seek a mastery of how to shine back like that, as I appreciate each time the pitch shifts again to tell me I already have and I do. One reason this interview is with you, is because your book of life is well travelled when it comes to attention given to and insights with artist. Yet we have all these responsibilities, so you might find as absurd as I do that one of my son’s teachers asked him if he is "realistic or artistic?" Levi flunked that teacher.

With the pragmatic comes a quest for the greatest balance of all. Never lose your childhood dance. Handle your shit, but we’d better dance in our bones. When you ask, what realistically, do I believe, I find it a more balanced question and it sets a fine ponder. After all, it has been well over six months by now. :-D

Just as music and life are the same to me, so should be the balance of dream and reality, Heaven and Earth, the sky and this long dirt road I walk. The pragmatic and the artistic… It should all be shared.

Hmmm… What did I forget? Oh yes, time. To take and make. Truth? I didn’t forget. It goes to that mastery of balance, again. I should love to pin that one down. Surroundings. The real thing. The real ones. Including all to whom I sight by first name here. It’s what it’s about. Keepers of the faith. Gotta love that.

And the fine sip of Chai. The breathing that makes senses alive. And glimpses of convergence fleeting to the finer place in you, as tethered and rooted to the best of the best for safe keeping. Brings round. And lots of fluff.


That’s what I believe by five O clock. Thank you Kev, for asking.


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